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Student Pens Open Letter to Admin After Denied a Chance to Walk at Graduation

My mother was diagnosed with stage 3-C ovarian cancer 13 years ago. I was eight. She fought a courageous, unparalleled battle. According to the statistics and the predictions from her doctors, she wasn’t supposed to make it to my high school graduation. But she did. She lived to see my brother graduate from high school, then on to see mine. She was even able to attend my brother’s college graduation and lived to see him receive his master’s.

This April, things changed. Her condition worsened and the doctor gave her two to three months to live. Two to three months. The next milestone is my college graduation—but my mother will not live a year to see it. She will not live to see me get my first job, or get married, or have kids. The news was devastating and we are still searching ourselves for ways to deal with it.

Now, imagine my surprise when I found out recently that around the time they received this tragic news, my parents devised a way to provide my mother, and all of us, with a small, important victory. A family friend had called Boston College to see if I could walk at the 2016 Commencement. The thought had never occurred to me—how nice would it be for my mom to see me in a cap and gown walking across the stage?

Admittedly, I may have felt out of place, but I would have gotten over any stage fright because of the satisfaction and pride it would have granted my mom. The diploma would have been fake, of course, as my real graduation date is May 2017, but we would have made it work.

But, in the same breath that my father told me about this, he informed me that we were swiftly denied our request. The situation unfolded as follows.

Our family friend contacted Student Services and spoke to an employee, whose initial response was “I don’t see why we couldn’t do that” and a promise to ask higher-level administrators on our behalf. She called back half an hour later saying it could not be done. The administration would not budge. There was no need for our friend to speak to them directly. It was not possible because it was “against Boston College policy.”

Against policy? Are you kidding me?

Is it actually against school policy to grant a dying mother’s wish? I wonder how difficult it would have been to add a chair to the field and a name to the list. I assure you we wouldn’t have needed much. Could it have been so logistically taxing that it wasn’t worth doing at all? Was there so much red tape and administrative nonsense that this didn’t warrant another look?

I cannot fully describe the gravity of my feelings and the depth of my hurt. The institution that I had attended for the past three years, to which I have been dedicating my time, energy, and talents, didn’t seem to care about me, its student, on a fundamental level.

I chose BC out of the schools that would allow me to remain close to my home, mother, and area hospitals she frequented because the Jesuit values that the school championed were very attractive. To me, there seemed to be a feeling on campus of philosophical reflection and meaning to every action. Even just looking back on Orientation, there were slogans thrown around like, “Men and women for others” and “Go set the world aflame.” They conveyed the message that we are the lucky few who are educated and that we should do something for others with that education.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have so readily bought into what they were selling.

Of course no person or institution is perfect, but I thought BC was one of the good ones. Despite its flaws, I thought that this place had a sympathetic heart. What could be a more pure and simple objective than this? Undoubtedly these circumstances are personal—an issue that calls for the humane sentiments and empathy the Jesuits espouse. Surely someone in charge could have reached into his or her heart to find the compassion I thought was so widespread on campus. Granting my request to ceremonially walk at graduation a year early so that my mother could witness such a milestone would have been a speck on the map of the BC legacy—but it would have been a tremendous blessing for my family and me.

Maybe this family friend just didn’t reach the right people. Maybe the cold attitude she was met with was a fluke. Maybe this is just one obstacle my family wasn’t supposed to overcome. I refuse to believe that, though. Something is wrong with the basic moral fibers here and it needs to be fixed.

If it really is “policy” then this has happened before and it will happen again. The administrators’ stark reasoning was “if we do it for one person we have to do it for everyone.” Did others have similar requests to mine? And you denied them too? I cannot believe that many others would be in this unique situation. I cannot believe that BC would ruthlessly turn down so many other grief-stricken students. Or is it merely because the policy says students who are not receiving a degree are banned from walking at Commencement? Well, that would be the point of our inquiry then. We were asking for an exception to this policy, some understanding and a little support in the face of death. As the employee my friend spoke to said, there is no good reason for why this couldn’t be done. In fact, Foxborough High School accommodated one student with an early graduation ceremony because her mother had ALS. Suffolk University deans arranged a special graduation ceremony in a student’s hospice room. Still, BC could not spare the time or effort to answer our one appeal.

I truly implore the administrators in question to reconsider next time they deny a student, a family—a terminally ill woman—a simple request that would make a world of difference. Maybe next time you can grasp the easy notion that there are more important things in life than tradition and rules, such as helping others and doing a good thing.

I thought I would learn those values here. I thought that’s what you were teaching us. Yet here I am writing this letter from a hospital room with a heavy heart and the knowledge that BC’s Jesuit values can’t even stand up to the mighty force of its own trivial policy concerns.

Respectfully Yours,

Kiara Lum

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

July 25, 2016

6 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Student Pens Open Letter to Admin After Denied a Chance to Walk at Graduation”

  1. You did not graduate. Why should you walk at commencement if you have not yet completed all requirements for graduation?

    It’s tragic what’s happening to your family, but if BC allows you to “walk,” early, that opens a door for them to let many other students in the future do the same, because they have, “special” or “unique” circumstances. (News flash: millions of people in the United States have cancer, so your situation is hardly unique or special).

    If you’re willing to ultimately deceive your mom because you think it’ll make her happy, why stop at college graduation? Why not have a fake wedding too, so she can witness that milestone? A fake baby, so your mom can experience the joy of becoming a (fake) grandmother?

    • They give out honorary diplomas and they let seniors walk all the time when they haven’t finished all their credits.

    • It takes a special kind of sociopath to respond to this heartfelt and sincere plea for compassion with such a complete and total lack of compassion. (News flash: it’s okay to be a real functioning human being sometimes. I promise good things will happen if you try. Insensitivity hardly makes you unique or special). Best wishes for you, and my sincerest hope that you never have to face someone such as yourself during a difficult time for you or a loved one.

  2. How many honorary degrees has Boston College given out? How many seniors with summer courses left to finish have been allowed to walk? The answer: tons.